With the University of Wisconsin’s spring catalog now live, students who want to bite off something different will be able to take a course that explores vampire legends.
Tomislav Longinović, a professor of Slavic and comparative literature, teaches “The Vampire in Literature and Film,” a cultural history course that explores the transition of vampire legends from their beginnings in folklore to films in the 20th and 21st century.
“The class is about how this image travels basically from Slavic and Eastern European folklore to sort of Gothic literature in the west and then how that image travels to film first in Germany and then the U.S.,” Longinović said.
Compared to the Hollywood version we see today, he said there was nothing seductive or erotic about vampires in early folklore.
The first stories involving vampires were born after native Slavs blamed a plague that affected a village on vampires, Longinović said. When the native Slavs went to open up a grave, the corpse in it had not decayed, so they pierced the body with stakes, he said.
The vampire legend seen in Western culture today first came from Austrian officials in the regions of Southern Hungary when the migrants from the Balkans emerged from the Austro-Turkish wars, Longinović said
From there on, he said people have taken imagination to flight and stories about vampires have become their own sub-genre within horror. Over time, the story has changed as it has been exchanged between cultures, he added.
Longinović said he enjoys having the opportunity to take a popular culture icon, like vampires, dissect it to show its historical roots and original geographic location and then teach students about the original Balkans and Eastern European legends.
Since the class has been offered to students, the Slavic department has enjoyed a greater course enrollment number as students hear about the interesting subject matter, he said.
Using popular culture, Longinović said this legend can be looked at across different time periods throughout history, and people are able to see where the differences in the legend come from.
Brina Hautamäki, a UW junior who took the class last spring semester, said the class prompted students to explore the historical context of myths and legends surrounding a variety of cultures. It also gave students insight into how the story has changed from culture to culture, she said.
“Your eyes are opened to a new array of stories that are a complete contrasts from your typical perception of a vampire story. Twilight is a light fairy tale compared to the captivating literature presented in this course,” Hautamäki said.